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Santa Barbara for the Whole Family

by Eugenia Lazaris

Nov 28, 2017

© Sborisov | Dreamstime

Destinations / North America

The coast of California is beautiful from beginning to end, but Santa Barbara on the American Riviera, is its crown jewel. With its beautiful beaches, lush scenery and temperate climate, Santa Barbara is the ideal destination for a family vacation.


Nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this classic California beach town has miles of coastline filled with tons of fun. Kids of all ages love the beach, from babies to grandparents. The gently rolling waves crashing against the shore are not only inviting to swimmers and surfers but are also relaxing and soothing, making it the ideal location to sit and gaze out at the ocean or stretch your legs walking along the sand.

Sunrise Santa Barbara, Calif. with surfers

Photo: John Pierpont | Dreamstime


By day tourists and locals alike frequent Shoreline Park, where teens can skateboard and art lovers can enjoy the frequent art and craft shows, all while enjoying some of the California sun that makes Santa Barbara such a popular destination. It is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic, stroll among the palm trees or take your furry family members for a walk.


The Santa Barbara Waterfront is a must-see for anyone visiting the city. Its laidback environment gives you a true sense of the city’s vibe. Stroll along the shore or the pier enjoying the views or stop and have a bite to eat at one of the numerous eateries while watching the seagulls hunt for their own meals from the pier. At night, teenagers, families and couples converge on the pier to listen to the captivating sound of sea lions barking in the darkness, a perfect orchestral accompaniment to the gentle tide.


Add some history to your family vacation with a visit to the Old Mission Santa Barbara to experience a piece of California’s past. Admission is inexpensive — adult tickets are $9, kids 5–17 are $4, and children under the age of 4 are admitted for free. Expect to spend about half a day on a self-guided tour through the mission’s beautiful grounds learning about its history dating back to 1786 through to its current use today as a functioning Catholic Church. Explore the cemetery located on the grounds to find the burial site of Juana Maria, the heroine of the beloved children’s book The Island of the Blue Dolphins.


A trip to the Santa Barbara Zoo, located across the street from the Pacific Ocean (because why shouldn’t the animals enjoy prime real estate?), is home to more than 160 species of animals. With snow leopards and giraffes, elephants and flamingos, not to mention a few anteaters and the quintessential California Condor, there are plenty of animals to entertain and delight. Despite the zoo’s population of more than 500 animals, it is easily manageable in a few hours.


State Street is a must for anyone looking to shop till they drop. This section of the city is lined with unique shops, trendy eateries and great opportunities for people watching. Stretching the length of downtown Santa Barbara, this walking excursion allows you to see plenty of the city at your own pace, stopping to eat, drink or shop as desired.


The essential California draw, fun in the sun, is easily found in Santa Barbara. Watersports abound in this coastal haven from paddle boarding to kayaking. The Santa Barbara Adventure Company makes it easy with a selection of kayaking adventures to choose from. They supply the equipment, training and guides for an aquatic excursion of the area. Choose between coastal kayaking, cave kayaking or touring the Channel Islands. They also provide paddle board lessons and surf lessons, guaranteeing that any visitor to Santa Barbara can experience a touch of the California surfer lifestyle.


Take a hot air balloon ride over the city and the surrounding countryside to experience Santa Barbara from a completely unique perspective. Captain Jack’s Tours and Events offers unprecedented aerial views of Santa Barbara and the surrounding areas. Take in the Santa Ynez Mountain Range, the rolling hills of wine country and the nearby Channel Islands all during a balloon ride you will not soon forget. Balloon tours are available Fridays through Sundays, year-round.


Captain Jack’s offers numerous other adventures as well, from horseback riding tours to wine-tasting tours, as well as sport fishing and paragliding excursions. They specialize in making your experience all-inclusive and can provide transportation and meals to round out your experience upon request.

Solstice parade dancers in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Photo: Ken Cole | Dreamstime


The city is host to numerous festivals throughout the year, from your basic music festival to the more eclectic I Madonnari Street Painting Festival scheduled for May 2018. Check for the latest happenings before your visit so you are sure not to miss out on the latest happenings.


Regardless whether you choose to spend your Santa Barbara vacation outdoors or indoors, soaking up the sun or having a staring contest with a gibbon at the zoo, Santa Barbara is an ideal vacation destination the whole family can enjoy. You can explore history or make history — the choice is up to you.


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